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A look at the life and works of Charles Gounod

personalities : A look at the life and works of Charles Gounod
Charles Gounod

Charles Francois Gounod was born in Paris on June 17, 1818 in a creative family. A remarkable artist, a talented painter, his father held the post of professor at the Polytechnic School and a teacher of drawing for the servants of Louis XVIII.

His mother, an excellent musician, taught the piano to play Louis Adan and Hullmenddel. After she was widowed, in 1823, she had to give piano lessons in order to provide for her children. She taught Charles the basics of music, and he early demonstrated his abilities.

The content of the article

    • Vivid impressions of the youth of Charles Gounod
  • Roman period of creation
    • Way to success through the theater
    • New heights of creativity after returning to their homeland
  • The last years of Charles Gounod’s life

Vivid impressions of the youth of Charles Gounod

Over the years of study at the St. Louis High School, Charles Gounod got acquainted with the productions of Othello by Rossini and Mozart's Don Giovanni. These two masterpieces were the main musical revelations of the composer's youth. The admiration of Mozart will remain with Gounod for life, and he will never stop ardently glorifying his genius. The opening of Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony” and “9 Choirs” reinforces his musical enthusiasm.

Filled with high artistic ideals, the young Charles shows ambition and determination to become a great composer. He studies at the Fugue Conservatory and counterpoint with Halevi, and composition with Lesuyor. In the competition for the Roman prize, he took second place in 1837, and two years later, as the highest blessing, received the first prize with the Fernand cantata. Before leaving for the Medici villa in Rome, where he was to reside for two years as a medalist, Gounod writes for the anniversary of his mentor Lesiuer “Agnus Dei” for three voices and a choir about which Berlioz wrote prophetic lines:

“There is everything new and outstanding: singing, modulation, harmony. S. Gounod here proves that everything can be expected from him. ”

Roman period of creation

Departure to Rome was given to the young man hard, because he first left his beloved mother. The newcomer was warmly welcomed by Jean Ingres, at that time - the director of the French Academy. They became friends, the artist shared a passion for music. Gounod accompanied him in the sonatas of Mozart or Haydn for piano and violin, introduced him to Alceste Lully, and sang his favorite tunes in a surprisingly expressive voice.

At the request of Ingres, Gounod develops his gift for drawing, performing more than a hundred sketches of simple figures. The portrait of the young Gounod, painted by the artist, refers to this period. During this period, the composer is often seen in the Sistine Chapel, where he is immersed in the art of Palestrina. Sacred music captures him.

At the Medici Villa, Gounod meets Pauline Viardot, who introduces him to the world of theater, and also introduces Fanny Hansel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn. An outstanding pianist introduces him to German music, “which excites and delights him.”

Gounod begins to think about taking church dignity

Impressive by nature, he falls under the influence of Father Lacorder, a brilliant preacher who arrived in Rome to restore the Order of the Dominicans.

Under his influence, Gounod evolves to social Christianity and begins to think about accepting church dignity. This mystical crisis is exacerbated by his friendship with Charles Guy, the future bishop of Poitiers, who arrived in late 1839 to prepare for his consecration.

Since then, Gounod has been devoting himself to religious music. He goes to the Convent of San Benedetto in Subiaco to write the solemn Mass, which was performed at the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi on May 1, 1841, on the birthday of Louis Philippe. This success brought him the life-long title of choirmaster.

Way to success through the theater

After that, he leaves Rome “calm, in peace” and makes his way to Vienna, where musical life flourishes. There, Gounod first visited the production of The Magic Flute, and began to build relationships with influential artists. During the winter of 1842-43 Charles presented two of his works: “Mass” and “Requiem” in Karlskirche.

Returning to Paris in May 1843, Gounod assumed the position of musical director in the Church of Foreign Missions. There he imposes on the parish, with some difficulties, the music of Bach and Palestrina. For five years he writes exclusively religious music. From October 1847 to February 1848, he wears a church dress and signs his letters “Abbot Gounod”. At this time, while working on a study of the comparative history of religions, Gounod was present at the Lacorder conferences in Notre Dame, as well as theological lectures in Saint-Sulpice.

Gounod contacts Pauline Viardot, who has just gained popularity

Meanwhile, a musician, in his 30s, suddenly realizes that "there is only one way to get a name - it's theater." Thanks to the mediation of violinist Zegers, he contacts Pauline Viardo, who has just gained popularity with his role in the “Prophet” of Meyerbeer. She pushes the composer to write an opera, and takes the initiative, imposing her choice, “Sappho”, on the libretto of Emil Ogier.

Even having received little success, the opera attracts the attention of the public and critics who understand that this is not an event, but a coming. Frances Gounod writes several concerts for Comedy, including The Tradesman in the Nobility, as well as the tragedy with the Ulysses choirs staged by Jacques Offenbach in 1852.

Shortly after marriage to Anna, daughter of Joseph Zimmermann, a composer and piano teacher at the conservatory, Gounod was appointed director of the Paris Brass Band, a choral institution staffed from the working class. And a year later, in 1853, the director of vocal education in the municipal schools of Paris. These functions, which he selflessly assumed, gave him the opportunity to write numerous choral and religious works, including "Mass for Chorists", performed in the church of Saint-Germain-l'Oserua in June 1853, under his leadership.

New heights of creativity after returning to their homeland

After the death of his father-in-law, Gounod moves to their family estate in Saint-Cloud

After the death of his father-in-law, he moved to their family estate in Saint-Cloud, where Charles Gounod spent most of his life. In the same year, the famous “Ave Maria” was a huge success in its orchestral version.

Gounod composes a new hymn “Long Live the Emperor” in honor of Napoleon III, performed in the performance of 1, 500 voices at the 1855 World's Fair. After the failure of his second lyric work, The Bloody Nun, he resumes work on Faust, originally conceived in Rome. Overworked, becoming a victim of a severe case of a nervous breakdown, to which he had a penchant, the composer was placed in the famous hospital of Dr. Blanche.

After a period of forced rest, Faust was completed, but due to competition with the Porte Saint-Martin theater, which showed drama on the same topic, it was staged only in 1859 at the Lyric Theater. Weighted, more solemn than inspiring, more symphonic than melodic, Faust does not receive immediate success. Only 10 years later she is staged on the stage of the Grand Opera, where she gets real success. In fact, the virtuosity of the vocal parts of the characters opens the way to burning melodic lyricism, breaks with a beautiful Italian song and Meyerbeer's tricks. He magnifies the image of Margarita, depicting the deep feelings of her soul.

“When I compose, ” says Gounod, “I am imbued with feelings, words, the character of a person, and I let my heart speak”

Only 10 years after the composition, the opera Faust found real success on the stage of the Grand Opera

Gounod, having retired from a post in a brass band, writes two light operas - Philemon and Bavkida and Dove, on the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carr. Estimated as examples of taste and pungency, these two works were less successful compared to his opera The Queen of Sheba, staged in 1862. In 1867, the composer returned to poetic opera, better suited to reflect his lyrical style. The result was the opera Mireille, and Romeo and Juliet.

In 1867, the composer returned to poetry, the result of the operas Mireille and Romeo and Juliet

Having a happy opportunity to leave Paris, which “suppresses and strangles him, ” he composes in the south of France in order to bathe in the atmosphere in which his characters evolve.

The last years of Charles Gounod’s life

Depleted by a period of intense creativity, Gounod seeks peace and quiet in Rome, preferring to retire where he always wanted to live. He allows his religious fervor to act freely, making sketches of Polyevkt, his Christian opera.

But the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 stops the composition of this work. Struck by the position of France, and unable to “live under the banner of the enemy, ” Gounod and his family take refuge in England, where he meets singer Georgina Weldon. She convinces the composer to act in the exact opposite of her nature. Thus, he becomes her protege.

About three years working at Tavistock House, he is suing his publishers, and resigns as director of the Paris Conservatory. Tired and ill, Gounod leaves London with the help of Dr. Blanche and friends. He leaves several manuscripts there, including Polievkt, confiscated from revenge by Georgina Weldon. Returning to France, he restores the entire opera from memory with great accuracy. Oppressed by the failure of this opera, which more than any other is a reflection of his inner convictions, Gounod said:

“May all my works perish, may my Faust perish, Polievkt must be revived and must live”

In the last years of his life, he develops a rich and varied literary activity, becoming a music critic. With tireless vitality, he controls the last rehearsals of his works, to which he devotes most of the time. Full of awards and orders, Guno kept to the end a calm temperament, always disposing to himself. Under the influence of kindness, devoting himself to those who were approaching him, he instinctively created around him an aura of sympathy and affection that he needed.

The last work of Gounod, written in a state of shock - Requiem in memory of his grandson remained unfinished. Gounod died in Saint Cloud on October 17, 1893. A national funeral was held in Madeleine, at which, in accordance with his desire, they sang the Gregorian Mass.

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